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Microsoft lets companies chip into Windows CE

The software giant introduces a program that will let chipmakers design processors to power embedded devices ranging from factory equipment to cell phones to handheld computers.

    Microsoft on Tuesday formally announced a program that will give chipmakers access to the next version of Windows CE, so they can design chips to power embedded devices ranging from factory equipment to cell phones to handheld computers.

    In a recent interview, Microsoft Vice President Bill Veghte said the Windows Embedded Strategic Silicon Alliance is designed to spur chipmakers to build a variety of devices around the next version of Windows CE, code-named Talisker.

    Chip firms taking part in the alliance include ARM, Agere Systems (the planned spinoff of Lucent Technologies' Microelectronics Group), Alchemy Semiconductor, Cirrus Logic, Hitachi, Hyundai Electronics, Intel, LinkUp Systems, MIPS Technologies, National Semiconductor, NEC, Philips Semiconductors, Samsung Semiconductor, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments and Toshiba.

    As part of the deal, Microsoft will work with each of the chipmakers to optimize the operating system for their chips. The chipmakers will have access to the operating system's source code but will not have broad access to add features or make other changes to the software, said Kim Akers, director of marketing for Microsoft's embedded and appliance group.

    The final version of Talisker that ships will include the optimizations for all of the chips made by those in the alliance, Akers said. In the past, Microsoft has given chipmakers a much more limited role, doing much of the optimization work itself.

    While Microsoft is still keeping control over what happens to its source code, the company is clearly accepting more input. The company worked closely with Compaq Computer to make sure Windows 2000 was suitable for high-end severs. Last week, a Microsoft executive said the software giant has been showing parts of its Windows source code to hundreds of customers, who can then suggest changes for Microsoft to make.

    "As soon as you start focusing on the rich applications and services, you see all sorts of interesting devices coming out," Veghte said. In particular, he pointed to the Experience Music Project, which gives visitors to a Seattle music museum a Windows CE-based device to interact with the exhibits using a wireless network. Vail Ski Resorts is using a Windows CE device to scan lift tickets and sell new lift tickets to customers whose passes have expired.

    The new alliance comes as Microsoft kicks off its Windows Embedded Developers Conference in Las Vegas. President Steve Ballmer gave a keynote speech Tuesday noting that the devices of the future will need to know who is using them and what information they require, a level of intelligence Windows CE offers and other embedded operating systems do not.

    While Microsoft has floundered in past efforts to make substantial inroads in the embedded, or non-PC market, Veghte said Microsoft's embedded revenue in 2000 was triple that of a year earlier.